Dr. LaVern Rippley
Germans from Russia Heritage Society Convention
Pierre, South Dakota, July 10, 1994
Transcribed by Norm Betland
Edited and Proofread by Marcie Franklund
This program even though it is strictly forbidden to talk before
a quarter to four so what we say between now and a quarter to four
is off the record. So the lies will come now and the facts will
come later. And let me kind of just throw in some background stuff
here as we’re warming up.
In the, in the 1990 census, you know, they finally got the government
so far off its butt that its...we got some of the results and even
though they’ve now used the most sophisticated graphic, computerized
informational systems in the world, they still get slower and slower
and slower in getting those results out. And the other discriminatory
things to us they didn’t print in the census this time, its
only there on, you know, microfilm and electronic data, except they
do have summaries.
So we gather from these summaries, make the comment that in 1990,
more people than ever before, declared German as their ancestry.
So we have now about 58 million who in 1990 said their ancestry
was German. That is by the next largest group, the Irish, which
said only 38 million. And the English are considerably down from
there. And then you have these minority groups, such as we heard
this the Norwegians and others. The interesting thing is that there
was such a rapid increase of persons of German descent from the
1980’s to the 1990’s, at least by millions, which simply
tells you that the act of reporting yourself changes with each decade.
We have done something else with the censuses between 1910, 20 and
30 that you will have us going along here, reporting births in Germany,
and then it dipped radically in 1920 and then it came back up again
in 1930. In 1920 the people who were reporting to the census taker
were assuming that he was a government official and probably would
turn them in for being German. Consequently they might be punished
some way or another. So then they said ‘where were you born’
they said, ‘across the street, where else?’
I have an interesting exemplification of that. A friend of mine
was born in the of Mennonite colonies in Russia. And then as a fairly
young boy, came with his parents before World War II to Canada.
And since the United States was rather ugly toward immigrants from
Russia in particular and immigrants from Germany too if they weren’t
Jewish, any rate, so they went to Canada. And then he studied, I
remember, for his doctorate and so on down at the University of
Iowa in Ames and I was at the University of Ames and then he worked
there for quite a few years, but his home was still in Canada, in
Winnipeg, so he was always going across the border. And when he
would get to that border coming to the United States, they would
say “where were you born?” Wow, geez that’s of
Russia.” “Ah, Russia, come in here, you know, we gotta
search you.” They take him in the back room, you know, take
his pants off, and check everything, no tattoos on the body, no
nothing, can’t be a Communist. “Oh I’ll let you
go, you can go.” He said he got so sick and tired of that
he would come to the border and they would say “where were
you born” “Ok, no problem, just go on.” And he’d
head on south to work.
These agents, you know, well, at any rate; I’m giving you
some little examples of how some of the data is in a sense corrupt
within itself, even though its official data.
What we’re gonna do today is I’m going to show you
a film that is produced of two films, so I’m going to give
you some options here and as any good teacher, you should tell them
in advance because if you don’t like it, leave now. At any
rate, the first film we’re going to show you has a nice English
soundtrack, it’s professionally produced by the German film
companies, and it is depicting the fate of Germans from Russia who
arrive and settle, in this case, in Potsdam. Potsdam if you don’t
know is immediately adjacent to Berlin, it’s the site where
the conference took place in 1945, where among others, our good
friend, Harry Truman, met with our non-good friend, Joseph Stalin,
William Churchill, and its at that point where they gave the sanction
to the deportation of roughly 15 million Germans from all over Eastern
So the place has kind of an interesting connotation in itself,
but the real reason the Germans now coming back to Germany are being
circled there is because there is space available, and then again,
there isn’t space available. If you’re taking in roughly,
you know, a million refugees every single year into West Germany,
the net outcome of that, is there is no place to live. There are
no apartments, there is no free room. There isn’t any place.
So we are growing up these container villages, container villages,
container villages, container dorfer, means they have taken these
pre-fab little units and set them out there in the field and put
up temporary plumbing and electricity and and there were these little
village units where people can live for a time until they can find
some more permanent housing.
But why Potsdam? In Potsdam the military of the Russian Army is
gradually being phased out. In fact, by the end of 1994 it is supposed
to be fully phased out. That means there are quarters which the
East Germans had built for which the German Reich before they collapsed
their macht had facilities which then housed the Russian soldiers
who now in turn are departing, so some of the refugees can be housed
there. So I hope you get this complex situation.
And I want you to watch for a few things. And the key central feature
here is that of heimat. Now heimat doesn’t mean anything to
an American. You know, shucks, we’re living in this house,
but the shade trees aren’t tall enough so we just need to
sell it and move across, down the block, two blocks over here, until
our wife gets arthritis and doesn’t like to go up steps, and
hell we’ll just sell her off and buy a house of here.
Well, a German doesn’t think like that. Heimat is home and
the house is the home and the neighborhood is the home and the family
is the home and the geography is home and the customs and traditions
at home is home and its not replaceable. You can’t replace
So I want you to notice that this is not an all glory film. Germans
come back from Russia to that what to them in Russia this God’s
little acre on the face of the earth, in the mythology of it all.
And yet, when you get there, there’s a reality, and the reality
is, you know, you gotta live somewhere, and you gotta get some neighbors,
you gotta get somebody you can talk to, and you gotta develop a
community, and you gotta be able to handle your money and spend
in a land where everything is available, but the means to get it
And so on the one hand, the Russian Germans are extremely saving,
they pinch there money and then they can buy everything and when
they do, then the neighbors say “Ah, well the dirty bastard’s
must have gotten it all from the government. Must have gotten bigger
handouts then they were supposed to.” They’re jealous
of them and they work hard to have this. The conflict that that
kind of thing generates it that then the poor Russian Germans can’t
develop friends here because they’re jealous of what they’ve
saved for. And so they say, “this isn’t Heimat, I don’t
even know anybody, and they don’t even speak to me.”
So be alerted to that.
Then, the language. Now today we talked in one of the seminars about
the role of language in maintaining an ethnic culture. Now, Germany
does not want any ethnic disparities, dissimilarities. They have
vowed from the beginning: we will take all these refugees from the
east, but we will not permit them to be ghetto-ized. And that means
that they have to be dispersed and filled one, on a proportional
basis to the population already existing so that we do not overburden
any area, and two, we don’t want them maintaining some foreign
language, some silly ghettos here. They must be integrated, unlike
in the United States. And three, they must learn to talk quality
German. Therefore, any Germans who come in from Russia, Poland,
Rumania, Lithuania, I don’t care where, Kazakhstan, , they
will take twelve to thirteen months of language training, so that
there language comes up to par. That means they can function economically
in the country, but that means all Germans from Russia lose the
functionality of that sealing togetherness because we speak our
specialty language dialect. And all of them speak, of course, the
dialect because in Russia it had been forbidden, for 45 years, to
The Russians take this peculiar dictatorial approach to someone,
as the United States did during World War One, that if we forbid
the use of German, then we will be punishing Germany, And Russia,
“Ah, you know, if we don’t let anybody in this cold,
Russia learn any German, we will be punishing Germany.” Well
guess what, Germany didn’t care. I mean, who gives a god dam,
they can’t learn German, well, so what? I mean it didn’t
hurt us in anyway, they hurt themselves, right? At any rate, the
Germans in Russia too came under that since World War II. “We
hate the Germans, we hate them, and therefore, we will forbid them
from learning their language.”
Today, coming in to talk with our dear friend Cole, and say, “economically
we have to get on stream and get on board and really that’s
going to happen through Germany, and so consequently we need to
learn the language so we can do commerce, so why don’t you
give us some foreign aid?” “We’ve given you some,”
“No, I mean, really foreign aid.” “Well, what
do you mean, what are you thinking about?” He said, “We
need German teachers.” “So that’s what’s
been the matter with you guys all these years.” So that resource
they had, Germans in Russia, who could have been integrated and
used as teaches of language, were all suppressed into.
Well, the United States does the same story. So watch for all that,
and also watch how the older people speak German, the younger people,
of course, don’t speak any German. And they’re enjoying,
in a sense, their life in Gluckstahl, because some of their social
life can be carried on further with Russian speaking soldiers and
Russian speaking commissaries, well, they can feel a little bit
at home, in this land of golden opportunities of Heaven on earth,
in the degree to that in Germany.
We’ll sign a little point, they like to live in proximity
to Jews. And one of the reasons they liked to live in proximity
to Jews living there now are also expellees from Russia or migrants
as the case may be. A great many going first to Israel, because
that’s the automatic excuse to get out of Russia. And then,
of course, walking across to the next counter, and taking, immediately,
the next flight to Berlin, because they know that they good life
is really in Germany and not in Israel. So the myths that we continuously
hear in this country that all Jews hate Germans, isn’t holding
up. At any rate, they also know Russian, so they have this interesting
community forming on the basis of Russian language within Germany.
So with that introduction, I’m going to play this film and
I don’t know, I mean it’s going to be tough for you
to see it, so there are seats back up here if you want to come as
closely as you can. We’ll crank up the volume so you can at
least see this, put on your telescopes, glasses, and we’ll
do our best.
...we, your mama and pa, your grandma and grandpa, send you greeting
to embrace you in spirit. We wish you good health and peace and
tranquility in your solitary lives. But the greatest of all, keeping.
(So we see slokerod, winter, and we’ll see Germany in these
Erma Schippelbein, 67, a farm worker of German descent. She emigrated
from Kazakhstan to Germany seven months ago. After a life long in
the Soviet Union, she is beginning anew in the land of her forefathers.
On the outskirts of Potsdam, Erma Schippelbein and two hundred other
immigrants from the commonwealth of independent states are living
in what were once Soviet military barracks. “It was hard for
me. I kept thinking it would probably be less lonely if they placed
us in a small village. There would be animals. Maybe we could some
livestock, have some work. There aren’t even any chickens
here. It’s so hard. We’ve always had something to do
all our lives and now we have nothing. We were walking around here
and my husband said, ‘look! There’s a chicken!’
You worry about everything.”
“It was all so strange here. I was sorry that I’d come.
I was homesick to go back. Everything there was so familiar and
here it was all different. The people were different, I wasn’t
happy. I would’ve gone back if I could. But then to have to
leave the children here again, I thought, ‘this is God’s
The Schippelbeins raised four sons and two daughters, all of them
already had families of their own. The three older children still
lived in Kazakhstan, the others came to Germany with their parents.
The youngest son, Roman, was the driving force behind the reparation.
“Many people are leaving Kazakhstan these days because the
situation there isn’t changing for the better, it’s
getting worse. That would be. Now there’s trouble in Georgia
and has finally reached Moscow. There’s no guarantee that
things are going to stabilize at all. And we still have no autonomy
or anything. Of course the abundance of goods in the stores here
has something to do with wanting to leave. But I think the most
important thing is this: here I will never be forced into a labor
brigade like my parents were during the war.” (Notice, he
speaks Russian and the woman spoke German.)
War played a major role in shaping his parents’. Like most
of their generation of German descendents in Russia, they were expelled
from their native district. The father was originally from the Caucuses.
The mother’s family is from the Ukraine. In 1941, Erma(?)
Schippelbein’s oldest brother ended up in Germany. After the
war he began to build a new life in Vettslar in Hampton. It was
a quarter of a century before his sister got news of him again.
When she was 16, Erma Schippelbein was granted it was there that
she met her future husband and got married. Germans, they were prohibited
from leaving their town of residence. In 1957, after the compulsory
registration requirements for they moved to northern Kazakhstan.
The past is still vivid for Erma Schippelbein. “When we arrived
we bought a little mud house. Of course we didn’t have any
money. After the journey it was a bit difficult. But then the children
got bigger and in ’61 we built ourselves a house, a big beautiful
house. We thought that would last us until we die.”
The Schippelbeins lived in that house for over 20 years. They believed
they had finally found peace under which lies in the vicinity of
the town of The family was happy in the secluded village where most
of the residents were of German descent. Here the children went
to the village school, grew up and built their own houses close
to the family home. Life was simple and very much bound to the land.
The Schippelbeins had to work hard to achieve their large prosperity.
Almost all of them were involved in farming. The father of the
family worked until retirement as a carpenter and horse herder.
His wife looked after the farm and the household. “We always
had two or three cows. That’s what we lived from. We had pigs,
chickens, geese, ducks, all sorts of farm animals, sheep, everything.
We had a garden too. We planted potatoes and vegetables. We lived
through that, earned a little bit extra and it was a lot of work.
We’re not bad off now either. We can’t complain. We
get by, we get help, and that’s enough for us. I’m quite
content. And also, good medicine we have. I went to the hospital
and they helped me right away. I mean, I’m here as a guest.
I can’t really make any demands because I haven’t worked
here. And they’ve been so good and they help us.”
The children were spared their parents’ harsh of deportation
and work camps. But in various ways, they too have felt the effects
of being ‘German.’ They were not allowed to learn their
mother tongue. They were discriminated against during their schooling
and in their working life. “I was with something like that
for the first time when I was in the Army. I did my service with
the construction battalion. What exactly we were doing in hero,
I can’t say. We were building something in the woods, underground,
probably some kind of military installation.
One day, after 3 months of service, myself and several other Germans
and one Jew, were ordered to step forward during roll call and told
that we were being transferred, since, due to our nationality, we
were unreliable. I mean, I did have an uncle who lived in a foreign
country, so we were expelled from that district.” Roman, being
a German, was transferred several times from one place to another.
The drastic experience he had in the military was not repeated in
Roman was able to study and then practice veterinary medicine.
But by an ironic twist of fate, Roman is reminded of the Russian
military even in Germany. There are still many Russian Army units
stationed in Potsdam. Russian soldiers are part of the city. Roman
remembers that at the beginning it was a very odd feeling. Since
then, the family has gotten used to these leftovers from the old
Soviet days. In fact, some things turned out to be very convenient.
Like most of the immigrants in Potsdam, the Schippelbeins attend
Russian concerts at the Officer’s Club, shop at the military
stores, bring their clothes to the cleaners and get their hair cut
at the Russian hair salon. Not only are the prices more reasonable,
but Russian is spoken here. Like all of working age, Roman receives
an immigration system allowance from the employment office for the
first year here, so he gets $800 a month to support himself. Combined
with his wife’s income, this brings the family’s budget
to $1,600 a month. Accustomed to a life in Kazakhstan, the young
couple made out fine with this money, especially since they don’t
have to pay rent.
The Schippelbeins were one of the first refugee families to be
resettled in Potsdam. Potsdam, the capital of the new state of Brandenburg,
was as yet unfamiliar with the phenomenon of German immigrants from
the CIS, a side-effect of German. What would then be city and an
already existing housing shortage, the city administration felt
over-burdened. The decision was made to house the settlers in buildings
that had previously been used by the Soviet Army. On the large military
compound, a settlement grew up that some people called Little Russia.
German resettlers and Jewish from Russia, lived in close quarters
with the Russian military. Despite the extreme modesty of the refugee
housing, the local population panicked. Seilor, a concerned citizen
of the neighboring part of the city remembers: “There was
a lot of fear and also a lot of outrage that the city would put
settlers inside their housing without talking to people about it.
If you were aware of the proximities of the housing shortage, nearly
ten percent of Potsdam’s population, that is 12,000 out 140,000
people, were looking for apartments which contributed to the sense
of aggravation. So at first there was an atmosphere of rejection,
rumors and fears. So we said we can’t live like this.”
Seilor founded a citizen’s faschund (?) committee. To protect
against awful attacks by white race extremists. A little bit of
security for the strangers in a strange land. But even the citizens
committee can’t do anything about the dreary surroundings.
This ambience is the same for the life of the new arrivals. They
speak only Russian and keep to themselves, holding onto the ideas
and the lootings they brought with them from the old country. Paul
is one of Erma Schippelbein’s eleven grandchildren. His vision
of Germany has already changed to some extent. “Well, the
way people describe things here, I thought it would all be like
a fairy tale. I thought there was no winter here, but then they
said the last winter was very cold. I thought we’d have a
house right after we got here. But first we were in one camp, then
in another and now this is the third.”
Coming to Germany has been a big change for Paul and the other
seventeen (?) in the household. Their integration into this new
society is being hampered by lack of contact with the locals. All
the citizens committee’s attempts to change this have failed.
“We negotiating with the youth services office because we
are building a bond. The city, however, was unable or unwilling
to acquire it. It would have been just a place with youth centers,
workshops, and community rooms, so immigrants could have gotten
out of their ghetto, as they still rightly call it. They could have
had some contact with the locals.”
The church provides support for the older refugees in their isolation.
Mass on Sundays can’t take away all the Schippelbein’s
cares. “Bonds which keep us together, to once again respect
the guidelines, guidelines by which people can live together with
one another without infringing on each other’s rights and
The extended family is an important source of support for Erma
Schippelbein in her new existence. Not just her children and grandchildren,
but most importantly, relatives who have lived in Germany for years.
“I have two brothers, one is already dead, and a sister. I
wanted to live closer to my relatives, after all, we’ve been
apart our whole lives. And so I thought, at least in our own way,
we’ll come closer together. I prayed and I prayed, but there
was no way, everything was already full. If I had known they would
travel on so far apart, I might even have decided not to come”
The family couldn’t choose their own place of residence.
In line with the new migration law, refugees are spread out over
the various several states according to each state’s capacity.
As often as they can, the Schippelbeins visit their relatives in
Hassen, where they also want to settle eventually.
Erma Schippelbeins brother, who died recently, had lived in Veslar
since the end of the war. She visited him in Germany for the first
time, four years ago, after he had sent an invitation to the family.
Then he quotes, “and distant relatives of the Schippelbeins
now live in Veslar, some of them also in temporary, hostile accommodations.
Erma Schippelbein’s nieces came to Germany two years ago.
So far, neither of them has succeeded in starting a career here.
This gives the bonds of family an even more important meaning. “The
most important thing is that we all stay together, that we don’t
lose each other, lose our way of being the world, especially this
new world. That we stick by each other and think about friendship,
the way it used to be, in Russia. The Germans in Russia stuck together
as well all those long years, and almost nobody forgot that they
were German. Our forefathers a tradition. We held on to all that
as much as we could.”
Everyone’s family feels the need to be together. It’s
the only way to still there wanting and share their memories. “I
didn’t really think about how hard it would be. The children
so far away, now I’ve experienced it, now I know. The keep
is not so hard for them, they’ve brought friends here, but
for the older people it’s not so good. It’s really all
for the children.”
Some of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, fourteen
in all, still live here, on the, which is still called ‘The
Path to Communism.’ The village has 150 farms, a school, a
village store and that’s it. Most of the Germans can’t
leave. Erma Schippelbein’s oldest daughter, Olga, lives here.
Until recently, Olga was forty, was the only member of the family
who didn’t want to emigrate, but her fears of being left here
alone have grown.
Now she and her husband also want to venture. “How do I imagine
Germany? I don’t know what to say, I can’t really imagine
it. If I could only just take a quick look. One person tells you
one thing, another something else, but everyone says it’s
great there. I think I would stay here if my family hadn’t
left. That’s the only reason I want to go, to be with them.
I keep thinking it won’t be bad. If we had all stayed her,
I would feel that this is my home. But I believe my home is where
my relatives are. I don’t know if I feel like a German. Everyone
says that because when I speak I probably have an accent. So everyone
says I’m a German.”
Like most of the people in the village, Olga didn’t used
to think much about being a German. Now she is torn because she
can’t identify with either the Russians or the German culture.
The terrible job situation here reinforced Olga’s decision
to immigrate. “Jobs are a lot harder because the prices here
are so incredibly high. I can’t even buy shoes for my children.
And winter is coming; the cheapest shoes cost 60 to 70 thousand
rubles.” 7 thousand rubles, about $22, that would be Olga’s
monthly wages as an. However, the last six months, no wages have
been paid up in the.
I like working with the animals because it gives me a lot of free
time to do everything at home. I leave the house every morning at
4:30 and I’m back at 7 or 7:30. During the day, I’m
I can take care of the family. I could work somewhere else. I was
offered a job as a cook because I’m a good cook, but I don’t
want to do it because then I’d be gone all day. Besides, that
kind of work pays a lot less.”
Olga is free during the day, but in the evening, her second shift
starts. Olga’s youngest brother, Roman, works here. In Potsdam,
Roman is now taking a language course, in six months, six hours
a day. Though language is at the center of the learning process,
the course is also designed to give practical everyday help and
career orientation. “You notice that they hesitate when they
come to specific passages in the textbooks about real-life situations
which are sometime portrayed quite graphically and realistically.
When you explain it to them, you see, over and over again, that
some of their illusions are shattered or lost, or that they are
simply amazed at what’s possible in Germany, things they didn’t
realize or imagine. With these people, I haven’t been with
them all that long, hope still predominates, the idea that things
will work out. And every positive example they see, spurs them on
to believe, ‘we’ll get through this, it will all be
“If you just come here for a visit, you’re not confronted
with any problems, you only see the positive side. For instance,
the stores offer everything, but of course I can’t buy it
all, I can’t afford it. It’s that or problems with work.
But I think, that is I hope, it’ll get better and I’ll
find work, if not as a veterinarian, then as a truck driver. If
necessary, I would take construction work.”
The third generation of Schippelbeins doesn’t have these
worries yet. But for them the German language is also the biggest
hurdle. Paul is staying back because of it. He is repeating the
sixth grade. The teacher makes a special effort with him, nonetheless,
until now, Paul hasn’t had much success. Making contact with
local children is also difficult for him. He tends to and sticks
with the other immigrant children. Although the atmosphere of the
school is very open and friendly, Paul misses the old friends and
his thoughts often return to his old home. “My biggest dream
is when I grow up here in Germany, my mother’s going to buy
me a big motorcycle, a Suzuki, I want to get it, ride it, and then
when I’ve graduated and done everything, I’m going to
ride my bike to the Soviet Union.”
The ultimate, the country where they didn’t want to live
anymore, because finally it’s more than just a piece of earth.
Even the was not terrible. “As I think of it, nothing but
work and misery and problems, and that’s exactly why it was
such a joy having the children around me when they were still small.
That was my pleasure, being with the children. The had no pleasure
and now my heart aches again now that they’re all gone, split
up, it’s sad again. So I haven’t seen anything good
in my life. I can’t talk about good. Our grandparents were
once from here, from Germany, so this is also our home. My sister
wrote me that this is our father land and now I think that too.
If we found that our grandparents were here once, maybe then we
could also find ourselves here. Maybe we have to find ourselves
here. I don’t know”
[side 2:003] (laughter) They say in seven days these foreigners
have a job, in seven months they have a and in seven years they
have a house. Germany is quite a bit different from that. I’ve
seen it written in all those people magazines, there was an article.
But like I said before, it creates funny little resentments; you
notice how the life goal of the boy was to ride his bike to the
Soviet Union. That resentment is evident, for example, in Seattle
and so forth when Asians come in.
Let’s focus on the equivalent resentment that is about Asians
and in America, right? We have that all over the place. So it is
not untypical or inhuman, or whatever it is, these are natural outcomes.
But I’m just saying that not all that glitters is gold. And
just to return to that glorious homeland isn’t the solution
to everything anyway.
When I’ve been to the Soviet Union at those villages in the
Urals, they were leaving, leaving, leaving and the social fabric
in the spot begins to fall apart. The minister leaves, the doctor
leaves, the social worker leaves, the dentist leaves, well what
are you going to do? It’s a very large problem.
Then this element in which we have these cases where there will
be clusters of these Russian Germans in Germany. The young couple
decides that they will go back to their native village to get married
and they take vacations, they have jobs and so-on they arrive back
in in Siberia and they have the wedding there for three or four
days and they return and come back to Germany, but that intimate
thing of getting married had to take place in the old Heimat rather
than somewhere here in none of this mysterious, cold, unfriendly
Germany. What brings them back? They go over there and get married...
She said it three or four times, it’s a question of the children.
I think that there are/were continuing to be a great many immigrants
to this country who were the parents, as it were, and fell through
the cracks, and don’t belong to either culture. It because
over time their language deteriorates in German and their language
in English doesn’t pick up fully to speed. And there are no
provisions here to send them all to school as there are there. As
a consequence they almost dropped out of existence and they so hate
the experience. It is so traumatic that they never told their kids
anything about it.
Then a generation and a half or two later, we all think, ‘Oh
Jesus, you now, let’s get the old genealogy going here. Well,
excuse me that was not a pleasant experience.’ And so mommy
and daddy and grandfather and grandpa, purposely request it so that
they couldn’t survive. And then we think, oh we’ve created
glorious Americans who are superior to everybody else. Grandma and
grandpa made this brilliant decision, in fact, they found it to
be a very kind of schizophrenic thing which they repressed, at least
the creepiest half. And so it’s forgotten. It’s tough
to put it all back together isn’t it?
It just occurred to me, the young boy was Russia. Um, in reality
wouldn’t he have more opportunity assuming that everything
was going to work out fine in Russia than in Germany? No I don’t
think so. The truth of the matter is, if you go to the villages
today where they are in existence, you can’t go to the Black
Sea, or the Krenia, or the Caucasus or the Volga and find authentic
living Germans. There are some there, but if you go to the east
where there are a hundred thousand in a given area, where there
is a cluster of villages and talk to those people, they will never
again trust the Russians. They are not going to risk trusting the
Russians again. They have acted so horrific in that 1941 to 1989
period, that they are simply not going to act the any plan the Russians
In the mean time, there is the society which is a Russian German
movement to try to get the Russians to allocate them a spot on earth
within the former CIS,, where they can now and again have an existence
with their own government, with their own schools, with their own
doctors, with their own this, anti-assimilationists.
As anti-assimilationists, if that could be brought upon, and a
lot of people have promised promised it in the Ukraine, maybe 20
families came out of a promise for 30,000 the first year and 500,000
the next year, and nothing happened. promised it. He promised it
on the Volga. He said, ‘you can have the northern half of.
Nothing has happened. So wiedergeburt is struggling to, it means
rebirth, wiedergeburt is struggling to make something happen. There
are continuing reports in the German language newspaper of Russia
about these efforts. Now, there’s a small undertow: some pastors
and so-on are urging Germans to stay there, their home is here,
because they’re saying, if you go to Germany, that’s
the surest way that this ethnic group will be wiped out. It’s
been virtually wiped out in the United States.
We have 400 people here, but we have 400,000 that should have been
here. So it’s wiped out in the United States, its wiped out
in Argentina, it’s wiped out pretty, not quite as nearly,
but fairly badly in Canada. So, if it goes to Germany, it will be
forcibly assimilated, so these pastors are saying ‘look at
this ethnic group with its unique language, with its unique tradition
and customs is worthy of preserve, so stay here. We’ll make
it!’ And they have done things. There are examples of small
industries that have been gotten going. There is an example of the
making of irons, to iron clothes, they get all the parts brought
over in huge containers. And they put a lot of screws into one big
container on a ship and then over here are all these parts. so you
can put a big amount without shipping the completed irons. They
ship them to one of these villages and they have to assemble them
by hand. And so, throughout the Soviet Union, they make pretty good
money. So the interesting thing is that there are interests to get
an economic base started, so that they would feel like remaining
in Russia, rather than coming to Germany.
But I’m saying this has, this meets the undertow of the total
distrust of the Russians. You cannot be forbidden to exist from
’41 to ’58, and just for this, every German in Russia
was traitor, therefore was shipped off to prison. And only in 1958
were they again given permission to leave that village. So they
have to stay in that little tiny village in that little neighbor
core or unit was the Russian word for it. And expect that much effort
and energy and death and expect them to re-trust the Russians. I
don’t know. West Germany in the meantime is trying to get
them to return. Will it work, will it happen?.
Are the West Germans encouraging this development? Yes, very, by
enormous help, and it’s so stunning, you know, you’ll
go to a village where, well, this one lady, I had her give me a
tour of the hospital. So we went down to the hospital and we were
going through, the first floor for example, no patients were served
in their hospital bedrooms. All of them came down and made their
own meals in this crummy mess of a kitchen.
And yet, you’d look into this room and that room and that
room, the most beautiful x-ray system and you look up close and
and say ‘what the hell is this?’ You probe it awhile
and a dental chair, they have dental systems within the hospital
in Russia. Beautiful chairs produced by the systems in Germany and
you say, ‘what the hell is going on?’ ‘Oh, well,
the German government is trying to encourage us Germans not to migrate
back to Germany, and, therefore, is giving us all this equipment,
which the outsiders may also use, so those Russians living in proximity
to German villages are getting better and improved medicine due
to that kind of foreign aid. Because Germans support and we just
don’t have room.
The old convention, the new convention, the great convention singers
will be gathering, where did she say? Where was that Berta? In the
H and R Room, hosted by our choir. Do you know where? We’re
getting to the end of our rope here. I’m assuming that language
is so important. Well everybody likes his life. And as the law comes
down the pike (?) and says, ‘either you give up this language
or we’ll make you give up your life.’ Guess what the
choice will be. And that happened, and it was forbidden, until 1991,
to learn German inside the borders of Russia.
Now how do you perpetuate language and/or culture in a scenario
like that?. And all other languages including Latvian, Stonian,
so and so and so it was not totally explicitly German, anti-German
act. Well, yes and no, the religion that you see in Russia is quite
primitive. There is no theology, there is no seminary, there are
no ordained priests coming out of seminaries there, there are no
ordained Lutheran ministers. They are all being brought in from
the outside. So, no they didn’t kill religion, but yes, they
succeeded in killing formal religion. That’s true, but they
didn’t kill it. That’s correct, that’s correct.
Not completely. Not completely.
You mentioned the distrust of the Germans towards the Russians.
What about the other way around? The Russians not having trust in
the Germans. You know, I have quite a few films and I have films
of the interviews that take place on the Volga with Russians regarding
the new arrivals of Germans, and they very very, they hate the Germans,
and they are taught that.
I don’t care where you go in Russia, if you’re with
a tour group here or looking at a city there, or you’re paying
a visit to a family here, they always want to show you the monuments
built to the great patriotic war. And what war is that? Well, that’s
World War II. And guess whom it was against whom they fought World
War II. Why, the Germans. I mean, they lost 30 million dead.
You know, every young couple gets married in a large city in Russia
will sometime during that wedding day take a few bouquets of flowers
out to the war memorial and lay them in commemoration of the great
patriotic war. Well, guess against whom that war was fought. That
is not about to just pass out conscious memory within this century.
You know it made me laugh when I saw all this D-Day and there was
the...you know what the success of D-Day was? Surprise. They lucked
out and had a surprise effect. So they landed the D-Day invasion
where no Germans thought they were going to come. So now we can
brag about all the statistics. Within a day we had landed 180,000
troops and we lost only 3,000, spectacular miracle. Well, guess
what. Within 2 weeks, the Germans brought back the divisions from
Poland until they knew they bloodied those Americans and British;
50,000 dead by the end of June. Well, guess whose lying in those
cemeteries went to. There are 10,000 in this cemetery and 10,000
and I think to myself, they’re all there.
I’m saying these are the troops that were fighting on the
Eastern front, that’s where the war was. That’s where
the killing took place. That’s where the hatred arose. That’s
where the legacy of death continues. And the interesting thing is
this psychological transfer. You don’t then blame the Nazis,
you blame the Germans who were in front of you. You couldn’t
have Hitler and those guys back there.
At any rate, we have, according to the 1989 census, about 2 million
Germans living in Russia. Of those, perhaps 800,000 have now arrived
in Germany, which means that there’s a good 1.2 million still
left, and what the fate of them will be is anybody’s guess.
It’s not the movement of reestablishing German areas in Russia,
such as it was in the war previously, or other asking for big trouble,
because that’s what kind of caused the trouble in the first
place. Well that isn’t what caused the trouble. Remember that
the Germans were there under a special organization for two centuries.
And if they restored something like that, you would be doing nothing
other than what you’ve done for a great many other minority
groups in the former Soviet Union now along with Moldova, Georgians,
and Azerbaijanis, not to mention Armenians who are mostly wiped
out. But Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania.
Everybody has gotten his own colony, but the Germans have not. But
the history of the Germans and the Russians and the conflict between
them is much different than those others. Yes it is, yes it is.
So it’s very complicated. It’s very complicated. I would
be very much against anything of that nature because I fear.
You have to think about one more dimension, and that is, ‘how
small can you make a country and still have a viable unit?’
And there is a very good book by Joshua Fishman who this poem about
language maintenance versus the United States. And that volume discusses
the problem of the maintenance of a culture if the unit becomes
too small. That means that if you don’t want to have a total
cross section of all facets of society within that nation, you’re
probably not viable. It means that if you don’t have doctors
and lawyers and merchants and chiefs and all levels using that particular
language with different government agencies and the military and
the police and the this and the that, we probably will not survive
anything, or you will survive in some peculiar bastardized (?) form.
I feel the problem with the Germans in Russia is that exact thing.
Where would you bring the quality structures to make such a society
work? Would you import them? You would have to at first. Even now,
if you want good editors of the German language newspapers in Russia,
they bring them in from Germany. They have a neat program going
on, where journalist schools will supply, or almost mandate their
students to spend six months on a training period, kind of an apprenticeship-like
internship, working for a German language paper somewhere in Russia.
It gives them the language skills to make those high quality newspapers.
Tell me, it’s pretty, it’s pretty complicated. And
what you have in this country, the, all of those papers in the 30’s,
20’s, and teens, we’re bringing over these high quality
editors from Germany because the language in the United States was
deteriorating to a point where they didn’t know how to spell,
they didn’t know how to write, they didn’t have correct
grammar, they’d have sloppy endings on adjectives (?). It
just goes on and on and on. So we brought in those people to do
the editorial work and let these other guys go on the field and
report and let me beef it up to whatever language style you need
it for. It’s comparable to what’s taking place right
now in Russia.
Now, I’m saying again, if it you want to make a society totally
viable, you gotta have all facets including your own universities
where they could train them right on. In that case I raise my offer
to buy you something. You can buy me a beer afterwards. I personally
have made everybody tired, and whatever else, but I can take some
more questions if you want.
Of course they are, every one wants them as workers, they are hard
workers. And you notice this happening in the other direction. They
will charter a large bus and leave, drive twenty-four hours straight
for four days to get back to the middle of Siberia on the because
they’ve got great jobs and they’re earning well in Germany,
but you don’t need to tell me they’re going to contemplate
staying there, but they do have homesickness and this concept of
Heimat continues to tug their heart strings. So I’m just saying
that not all that glitters is gold, but something is developing
here that could lead to the total extinction of this ethnic group.
And that might be the sad side for us nostalgia persons. You’re
talking about not only in Russia, but Germany too? Exactly, that’s
why this morning’s session was pure nostalgia.
Well there never was a member on the Black Sea that never existed.
But there was on the Volga, there was a fully autonomous, Soviet-Socialist
German Republic from 1924 to 1941. So there definitely was a, quote,
Azerbaijan, or Moldova, or Latvia, or Lithuania, where it was completely
governed, of course, with deputies going to the Supreme Soviet and
so on. Now that’s the kind of things that the German theatres
(?) conceive when they’re talking Wiedergeburt, born again,
that’s the talk, but will it ever work? I just don’t
see it happening.
Yeah well, you’re always something. Could you give the title
of the book? The language book? No by Mead (?) Well, I’ve
got 25 or 50 books all from that. (murmurs) Oh that book? Joshua
Fishman? F-I-S-H-M-A-N. Joshua is a professor at New York University.
The book was Language Maintenance Efforts in the United States.
The best article in there is by Hans Voss (?) at the Mannheim (?)
Language Institute in, well Mannheim (?). The Institute for. This
one lady mentioned that somebody is quite wealthy in the German
Russians and makes Oh sure, your own friends. This guy brought over
this particular summer already, seventeen relatives, all of whom
are exemplifications of what we just saw. And they toured, they
went to the Black Hills, they walked with the presidents, took a
little trip around the and laughed at the superficiality of American
So you know, we have interesting examples of all of this, just
taking one little of one family. You even saw the 1941 see the one
brother who was brought back by the German Armies already in ’41
and a sister apparently, and that split the family and they haven’t
seen each other and then now they wanted to get back together, but
they can’t because they’ve got to go through these settlement
camps until they get through with the language and all that, after
which maybe they can move faster and then they’ll be together.
But it’s a long...and it’s a struggle for some people.
You mentioned you had two films. I do, but I just assumed that
everyone here is too tired to watch the other one. What is it? It’s
about wiedergeburt. It’s about the wife and where they would
like to perpetuate their existence and the urgings of those, if
people want to, I mean you could come up here and cluster and I’ll
play it for you. But I don’t wanna sort of, you know, put
you to sleep. It’s the same length as this one. It takes thirty
minutes. We’ll give two minutes, and if you get the hell out
of here you’ll be saving yourself and if you don’t.